Number 10 was quick to pour cold water on Nadhim Zahawi’s suggestion in the Mail on Sunday that child-related welfare benefits should be restricted to two children per family (for new births only), with a source saying that ‘this is not government policy and is not supported by the Prime Minister’. But aside from whether this is a good policy or not, Zahawi’s intervention is interesting as it marks a significant departure from the way the Number 10 policy board, of which he is a member, works.
Zahawi has only recently joined, but his colleagues on the board have been instructed to be entirely discreet about their work. Jo Johnson, who leads the board and is officially head of the Downing Street policy unit, has taken great efforts to impress upon the members the importance of not floating ideas that they personally fancy in the media, and has scolded some members for sailing too close to the wind on previous occasions. This means that very little news about the board’s direction escapes from the group – and its members do tend to behave themselves, particularly after Jesse Norman was sacked.
His Mail on Sunday article does not refer to any discussions in Number 10 on this, with Zahawi saying that he is ‘calling on the next Conservative government’ to make this change. But the quick response of Number 10 and the general policy board rule of keeping debate behind closed doors does raise the question of how 2015 manifesto policy will be decided: will there be the sort of open debate in the party that Zahawi seems to be encouraging with today’s intervention, or will it be as top secret as Jo Johnson would like to keep it?Tags: Child benefit, Conservatives, Nadhim Zahawi, Number 10 policy board, UK politics